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APLU Statement on Release of Obama Administration’s College Ratings Framework

Association of Public and Land-grant Universities President Peter McPherson today released the following statement regarding the unveiling of the Obama’s administration framework for its college ratings system.

“Public universities by their mission and nature share the Obama administration’s goal of improving transparency and accountability. With the release of a framework, the administration continues to seek broad input in how to construct a college ratings system, which underscores the deep complexities of developing a fair and useful system. APLU will be examining the framework carefully and we look forward to sharing our specific ideas and recommendations with the administration in line with our core concepts on transparency and accountability. (One pager and full version)

“The interest of students should be at the center of higher education improvement and reform, which is why APLU supports the concepts at the center of the president’s proposal. The goals of reform should be to provide better, more accurate information as well as a more effective and fair evaluation of institutional performance. Students, families, and policymakers should have access to understandable, meaningful information on colleges and universities’ outcomes and costs. In order to protect students and ensure their tuition dollars — as well as taxpayer funding — is well spent, institutions’ access to federal financial aid should be based on institutional performance. There should be consequences for the very bad performers and rewards for excellent ones.

“The success and effectiveness of any transparency and accountability initiative is directly linked to the quality of the data used. Some components of the framework appear to be in line with APLU’s recommendations, while other areas have yet to fully articulate our call for better data. The Student Achievement Measure (SAM) should be offered as a reporting option for progress and completion rates within the ratings framework. Unlike the federal graduation rate, which only counts first-time full-time students, SAM also reports the progress and completion rates of all transfer and part-time students. And it does so not just for students receiving federal aid. While the administration plans to track non first-time students in 2017, it will still not be able to systematically track student across institutions. SAM is a far better alternative that avoids those problems.

“Further, in order to fairly compare institutions, APLU continues to call for a student readiness adjustment, which would take into consideration the varying student bodies. The absence of such an adjustment as part of the ratings system could create perverse incentives for institutions to shift away from taking in more low-income and first generation students since it could negatively impact a school’s rating. We know that we must continue to expand the number of students who get a college education and earn a degree in order to provide them with lifelong opportunities and ensure the long-term economic success of the nation. “We thank the administration for its continued openness to the higher education community during the development of its plans.”

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